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Symonds-incident may open many other such cans - A Suneer Chowdhary Column
by Suneer Chowdhary
Sep 02, 2008
As an Indian fan watching the drama unfold at Darwin, it would not be too difficult to feel vindicated on seeing Andrew Symonds being banned for the three ODIs against Bangladesh. After all, not so long ago, it was his accusatory finger that had led to one of the biggest crisis in international cricket; probably almost as fiery in nature as the Bodyline, some had said. One almost got the impression that had it not been for some back room manoeuvring by the two cricket boards, the excuse was almost right for one George Bush to commence the third World War!

Much water has passed under the bridge since then. Harbhajan Singh has slapped, coughed up more than ten million bucks for it, and made a quieter comeback into the international cricket, while Symonds has had controversy shadowing him at every step. If a spur of the moment irrationality, had cost Bhajji the millions, it was a seemingly simple fishing expedition that has set Symmo backwards. It has gone to an extent that the Australians - cricketers and mediamen alike - have no cognizance of whether he would be a part of the Aussie squad that would embark upon the tour to India in around a month's time from now. And while this may be good news for his opponents - India included - with his prowess with the bat, and to a lesser extent with the ball being well chronicled, it does leave many a fan with a lot more questions about what really happened. Many such cricket aficionados across the world would be scratching their heads in puzzlement about what the fuss is all about and whether missing a team meeting deserves a punishment of this magnitude.

Well, for starters, there are enough reports emanating out of the Aussie dressing room of Symmo's lack of respect for the entities around him, and this includes the media, the fellow players and the fans alike. He has already missed a team bus in the Caribbean and voiced his fears a little more vocally than the rest about the Pakistani tour. There are said to be concerns about Symonds' dedication and frame of mind following several other incidents. Alcohol has reared its ugly head on more occasions than one in Symonds' case, but here, the role of the same has also been vehemently ruled out. Probably, it is a case of too much success going into the head.

Or is it?

For me, the issue is much graver. It is about the levels of stress that an international cricketer has to go through in this day and age, due to a host of reasons. Overkill of cricket is the most obvious one, and so has been an average cricketer's life spent, living out of a suitcase for months together. With not a lot of counselling, the physical fatigue easily gives rise to its mental counterpart, leading to incidents like these. The point here is that sometimes - and I am no expert here - there is a chance that an individual does not even realise that these levels have reached the threshold that it is almost impossible to get out of the web once the same has dawned upon him. Worse still, with no help forthcoming, with days alone in the hotel rooms without one's near and dear ones, the situation only gets aggravated.

Over years, there have been numerous examples of breaking down due to a combination of on-field and off the field shenanigans, almost invariably like a chicken-and-egg problem. One of them would have led to another, but it is difficult to fathom which one of them played a part in germinating the other. Michael Slater is one that immediately springs to mind; his attitude in the dressing room had caused enough grief for his team-mates. At the same time, his personal life had begun to get rockier, with rumors of his wife being involved in an extra-marital affair. Closer to the present, Marcus Trescothick had had to retire from international cricket, at a time when his career looked like it was blooming like a lotus. And this was due to a stress induced ailment that he realised was the cause of the beginning of the end of his career. Shaun Tait had not even played too much international cricket - he is currently a virtual greenhorn - and yet, he has had found it difficult to handle the rigors of the international cricket and promptly announced that he had decided to take a break from international cricket.

Cricket was only a game. That was some decades back. With the immense influx of money and media, it turned into a fulltime profession for the cricketers, and those in periphery associated with the game. Yet, it was still a sport. Today, the same has slowly transitioned enough, to have added a new term in one's lexicon; there has been a steady enough change for the game to be 'corporatorized'. And while corporatorization brings about a sense of security for the sportsmen, it asks for that much more accountability. Add this to the aforesaid mentioned problems of being away from one's pillars of strength and the concoction becomes rather potent. Symonds has been advised counselling, but one wonders whether it is already too late. With the face of cricket having changed so drastically, the role of a counsellor or a psychologist or a mental conditioner would need to begin very early in a cricketer's career.

Clearly, some handle it better than others; and in Symonds' case, it has been proven time and again that his physical exterior hides a very sensitive interior that has, over years threatened to explode regularly. And for now, the Usain Bolt of cricket is fast sprinting away to doldrums. Cricket Australia has woken up from slumber only now.
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